It’s the secret that the old school pastors and preachers knew, and it’s here for all to learn.
This week’s story reminds us that God works in us through His Word and by His Spirit. We cannot afford to be dismissive of either. If we think we know better, God may just leave us to it — until we find the humility to ask Him why nothing’s growing!
We start as usual back in the Old Testament where we are exploring the story of Abraham and his descendants.
Married but childless Abraham had received a covenant promise from God many years ago, that he would be the father of a nation. In other words, descendants — lots of them! It took a long time for his son Isaac to come — a miraculous birth to Abraham and Sarah in what we would call old age.
Now in this story Isaac has found a wife who, after her own faith-stretching time of waiting, has become pregnant with twins, in what was evidently an uncomfortable pregnancy. A prophet, possibly her father-in-law Abraham, told her that within her she was bearing two nations and she would see a growing separation between them.
And, as Jacob and Esau grew up, it became evident that they were very different characters. Esau was the older twin and was expected to receive the birthright privileges. But in a rash moment, he was persuaded to assign them to the younger twin, Jacob. With hindsight we can see God’s purpose in allowing this to happen
This is the heart of the story in Genesis 25:
One day when Jacob was cooking… Esau arrived home from the wilderness exhausted and hungry [and] said to Jacob, “I’m starved! Give me some of that red stew!”
“All right,” Jacob replied, “but trade me your rights as the firstborn son.”
“Look, I’m dying of starvation!” said Esau. “What good is my birthright to me now?”
But Jacob said, “First you must swear that your birthright is mine.” So Esau swore an oath… selling all his rights as the firstborn to his brother, Jacob. Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew, Esau ate the meal… and left. He showed contempt for his rights as the firstborn.
(Genesis 25:29-34 NLT excerpted)
Jacob was opportunistic, but he had the capacity to listen, and to learn. This was essential for God to build His nation through him. Later on Jacob will experience a crisis, as he wrestles with an angel all night and his will is broken. In that encounter, he is also renamed as Israel — the name of the nation.
Both Word and Spirit are working together here in Isaac’s life and with his sons. The word that Abraham was given is being upheld and acted on. And the Spirit is leading and directing. The takeaway lesson for us at this point, is that God’s Word-and-Spirit order will sometimes upset what we understand as the order — and we must learn to defer to His sovereign choice.
Building on this, we now move to Jesus telling one of His best-known stories, often called the Story of the Sower and the Seed — but really it’s about the four kinds of soil that receive, or don’t receive, that seed. This is a rare occasion when Jesus tells the story and also interprets it, and so we know that this is a picture, both of proclaiming the word of God, and how it is resisted or received.
The heart of the story is this.
A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some… fell on a footpath, and the birds…ate them. Other seeds fell on…soil with underlying rock and sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow, but the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that choked them. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! (Matthew 13:4-8 NLT excerpted)
Jesus goes on to relate this to the way people some people initially hear the message of the kingdom, but how easily it can be snatched away by the devil before it has time to take root in a person’s heart. Others receive it gladly at first, but then lose trust when they experience difficulties. Yet others are preoccupied with the things of this life — the deceit of wealth, in Jesus’ words, which choke the word.
Where we see Word and Spirit working together is in the seed which falls on receptive soil — the people who hear and receive the Word, know its value and let it grow in them. They are the people who are changed by it, with fruitful lives that impact the lives of others. The seed that finds this kind of soil shows how it has within it, this amazing capacity for enormous multiplication.
This immediately tells us something about how we come to the Word of God, and how we value it and use it. But the other half of the story is about how this Word is mentally dismissed before it reaches our hearts. It highlights the common ways in which the Word fails to take root in us, unable to grow because of various kinds of what Jesus would call our hardness of heart.
However, we let’s remember that we do have the capacity to receive the Word — partly us, partly a work of the Holy Spirit. If we allow Him to work in us, He can take us from being stony or weed covered ground, to being the most receptive prime soil. This is what Holy Spirit does in us, and this is how Word and Spirit work together.
It is about our desire to be fruit for Jesus. Do we love Jesus enough to want other people to come to know Him, and love Him too? How much does Jesus mean to us in our lives? And how much does His Word, whether it is the eternal Word of God or it is the ‘now’ word we sense He is speaking to us, influence us and our day to day lives?
This is about Word and Spirit working together in us, transforming us into people whose lives spread of the message of Jesus and His kingdom.
We’ll now go a bit deeper into how this works spiritually, by hearing from another well-known passage taken from chapter 8 of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. This is about the way the Holy Spirit works in us, giving us life, changing the way we think and helping us to align ourselves with God.
Perhaps the key verse is this: “Those who are motivated by the flesh only pursue what benefits themselves. But those who live by the impulses of the Holy Spirit are motivated to pursue spiritual realities. For the sense and reason of the flesh is death, but the mind-set controlled by the Spirit finds life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6 TPT)
Straight away this sets out the difference between the Spirit-led mind set, and the Spirit-resisting mind set that has its own agenda. Paul goes on to explain: “The mind-set focused on the flesh fights God’s plan and refuses to submit to His direction, because it cannot!” (Romans 8:7 TPT)
His teaching here encourages us to be open to the Holy Spirit, living in us, working in us and changing us from the inside. This is good news and the reason it is good news is because the teaching generally of the New Testament can seem like quite a stretch for us to keep. Sometimes it is taught that this is presenting a high ideal that we will never reach. But that is a perspective that comes from not understanding the vital role of the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of Jesus, helping us live for Jesus, giving us a spring and an energy to reach that high bar.
And so we begin to see all the difficult things that Jesus teaches, in a new light. It’s a whole different prospect when we know that we have spiritual help from within, to enable us to do what we can’t do on our own. However many good, kind or religious works we attempt independently, we cannot please God by our efforts.
The way we please God is by being close to Him — and we do this by listening to Him and doing what He says. His Word, the Bible, brought to life for us by the Holy Spirit, is the main avenue for us to hear His voice. And that’s how we Become Fruitful for God — Living in Alignment with Word and Spirit.
Lord God, we come to You through Jesus and we recall that at the beginning of time You spoke the world into existence by Your creative Word.
You have never stopped speaking, and Your Word is a real force for bringing new life.
May we be increasingly fertile soil for hearing Your Word, agreeing with Your Word and growing in Your word and Holy Spirit-led fruitfulness for Jesus.
Help us to partner with the work of Your Holy Spirit in us, to be a joyful, peace-bringing life-giving force for You, Your kingdom and Your glory. Amen.
• See also the Bible Study for Sunday, July 16 which takes a verse by verse close look at the Bible passages.
• Watch the video
- See also the Bible Study for Sunday, July 16 which takes a verse by verse close look at the Bible passages.
- Watch the video — it’s about 12 minutes — and there’s also a short 2–3 min summary audiogram suitable for priming a group discussion.